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Hamlet @ Royal Shakespeare Theatre

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Review of the new RSC production of Hamlet
Danish crime dramas are all the rage at the moment and this latest modern production of Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is a little in that vein.

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New Hamlet production by the RSC


There's the stark natural setting in a wooden community hall (complete with school gym benches), the simmering undercurrent of emotional turmoil and many of the characters wear woollen jumpers that would make Sarah Lund from The Killing green with envy.

Meanwhile the Prince of Denmark is no longer a sulky teenager, but a suited grown man well in his 40s with the mother and uncle he detests nearing retirement. Quirky love interest Ophelia and his university friends look like fashionable bohemians with trendy satchels and corduroy.

Some of the RSC's most talented are behind this production - director David Farr and superb Shakespearean actor Jonathan Slinger in the lead role - so it was disappointing that despite this having all the ingredients of become one of the great interpretations, it sadly fell short. Somehow it lacked that sizzling electricity on stage that constantly captivates.

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Jonathan Slinger gives a strong individual performance as troubled Hamlet


It's strange because there were some excellent individual performances. Slinger stood out for his groaning, sighing crazed Hamlet. It was almost hammer horror stuff as he calmly calls "night, night" to his mother in a boyish voice while dragging off to dispose of a victim's body.

Actress Pippa Nixon as Ophelia was captivating and commanded the stage. The scenes between her and Slinger were the best of the night.

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Pippa Nixon stands out as Ophelia in Hamlet


Hamlet is probably Shakespeare's most renowned and tragic tale. That of Prince Hamlet, who is left distraught by both his father's death and the fact his mother Gertrude has quickly married his father's brother within a few months. A visit by the ghost of his father then reveals he was murdered by his brother, and transforms Hamlet into a troubled man obsessed with vengeance that puts strain on relationships with everyone he knows.

It's an intricate focus on how revenge, grief and betrayal can turn people to madness, and particularly apt that the hall is engraved with the Latin words mens sana in corpore sano, meaning "a sound mind in a healthy body".

Aesthetically, it's a simple and effective yet stylish set. The wooden flooring is literally uprooted late into the play to reveal a floor of soil, where skulls are dug up and Ophelia laid to rest.

Then there is the fencing theme that runs throughout the play. Swords line the hall, the ghost of Hamlet's father appears in full fencing apparel behind an eery mask, and the duel between Hamlet and Laertes is a fencing contest.

On the whole, while interesting and intensely gripping at times, it failed to withhold my full attention for the 3h 45minutes performance. It is a good production just not one of the more memorable that it was expected to be.

Tickets cost from 14 to 60 from RSC Website or by calling 0844 800 1110.
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Why? World class Shakespeare performance
When: Until September 28, 1pm & 7pm shows
Phone: 0844 800 1110
Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Cost: 14 - 60
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